Feline Health

Be Kind to Animals Week May 3-9

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Be Kind to Animals Week” is sponsored by the American Humane Organization.  It celebrates the role animals play in our lives and promotes ways to treat them humanely.

We celebrate the bond we have with our own pets each and every day by loving them, caring for them, and basking in the uncondtional love they give us in return.   “Be Kind to Animals Week” may be an opportunity for us to remember animals who are not as fortunate as our pets.  Some suggestions on how pet parents can participate in “Be Kind to Animals Week” are:

– Donate cash, pet food, or cat litter to your local shelter.

– Volunteer as a fost parent with a local rescue group.

– Volunteer with your local shelter.

– Make a donation to your favorite shelter.

– Appreciate wildlife.

– Report animal abuse.

Natural flea and tick control

As a follow-up to my recent post about the EPA’s increased scrutiny of spot-on flea and tick control products for pets, I tried to find natural alternatives that are equally as effective as the chemical-based products.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find anything that I’m comfortable recommending without reservations, but I thought I’d share my findings with you so you can make your own informed decisions.

Many natural products contain essential oils such as Pennyroyal, Tea Tree or Citrus oils. Essential oils are generally not safe to use around cats. This has become a hotly debated topic in holistic circles. Even though some practitioners or suppliers of essential oils will claim that their products or techniques are completely safe for cats, the fact remains that cats have a unique physiology and process these oils differently from other species. Some oils can even be deadly to cats. I do not recommend the use of any essential oils around cats.

It seems that the only safe natural flea control methods are as follows:

  • A good flea comb with tightly spaced teeth.  Comb your pet daily during flea season and drop any fleas you find into a bowl of soapy water to kill them.
  • Bathe your pet with a gentle shampoo such as oatmeal.  Don’t use  harsh flea shampoos, most of them have chemicals in them.
  • Vacuum vacuum vacuum.  I came across one suggestion to cut up a conventional flea collar and put it inside the vacuum cleaner’s bag – it reportedly will kill any live fleas, eggs and pupae you vacuum up.  I don’t know for sure that this will work, but it made sense in a strange kind of way.
  • Adding Brewer’s yeast to your pet’s food may help deter fleas from attaching to your pet.
  • Sprinkle diatomaceous earth in your yard to cut down on the flea population.  Diatomaceous earth also makes a great natural pantry bug killer, it works for all insects.  It’s reported to be safe around pets, but don’t sprinkle it directly on your pet!

I’ve been unable to find any information on natural tick repellants.

Ultimately, it comes down to weighing the risks of conventional flea and tick products against the risks of the health problems caused by fleas and ticks.  Many pets have been using chemically based flea and tick products safely and without any problems for many years.   Flea contact dermatitis and anemia are unpleasant health problems that definitely compromise a pet’s quality of life.  Lyme disease can be crippling, and, in its worst form (Lyme nephritis), it can kill.

Can my cat or dog get the swine flu?

There is plenty of information in the media about how to protect yourself and your family against the swine flu, but very little has been said about whether it can affect our pets.  While there is no absolute answer, I found this article by Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM helpful and wanted to pass it on.

On a slightly different note but on the same topic – I highly suggest that you turn off the news.   The media has a never ending propensity to report bad news and to try and put its audience into a fearful state of mind about the swine flu, or anything else for that matter.  Fear and bad news sell advertising – it’s as simple as that.    Worry is a waste of energy and a sure fire way to attract what you don’t want into your life.    For more on why not watching the news is good for you, refer to “Go on a news diet“, posted in March.

EPA increases scrutiny of flea and tick products for pets

It’s flea and tick season in much of the country, and pet owners are beginning to use products such as Frontline or Advantage to combat these pests on their pets.  While these products are effective, please be aware that they are also loaded with chemicals.

Last week, the EPA issued a cautionary statement about these products and their safety, and began investigating the recent increase in reports of adverse reactions. 

For a more indepth look of what this means, Dr. Patty Khuly, a small animal veterinarian in Miami, FL and founder of the veterinary blog Dolittler, posted an excellent article on her blog.

I’ve been researching natural alternatives to chemical flea and tick products for the past few weeks.  I’m trying to find products to recommend to you that are both effective and safe.  Not everything that’s natural is safe for your pets, and until I’m sure that the products I’m looking at meet both requirements, I won’t recommend them to you.   I’ll share what I find with you as soon as I can.

Animal communication

I came across this utterly cute video of two cats communicating with each other:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHD0halWkFU

I can’t say that I’ve ever seen cats communicate out loud with this level of intensity, but cats do communicate in many different ways – from “verbal” communication ranging from purring to hissing to telepathic communication.   This made me think about animal communication in general. 

How do pets communicate?  Amber is the “purringest” cat ever (and yes, I created this word just for her, there’s just no better way to describe  her!).  She purrs if you so much as look at her.  She is one of the most content beings I have ever come in contact with.   She can, however, be quite vocal when she wants a treat – especially lately, since she’s been on her diet.  Like all cats, she also communicates with her tail – from straight up in the air to indicate happy and friendly to bushy and puffed up to indicate either excited or scared.  

In addition to these behavioral ways of communication, many of  Amber’s, and all animals’, communications are done telepathically.  Research has long suggested evidence of telepathic communication.  If we accept that animals are thinking, feeling, sentient beings, it’s not much of a leap to accept the concept of interspecies communication.  Communicating with species other than human is not a new idea.  It is interwoven into many of the worlds’ tribal communities.  Individuals such as St. Francis of Assisi and Jane Goodall have demonstrated it in various ways.   We all have this telepathic ability, especially as children.  It is often expressed through imaginary friends or by reporting what the family pet “said.”  Sadly, as we grow up and are told by our parents and society that these abilities are not normal, we tend to block out this natural way of being.   Professional animal communicators have never lost this natural ability, or have trained themselves into recovering it.  They connect with the animals’ unique energy and they may receive information in pictures, or simply as a sense of intuitive knowing.  They can then “translate” what they receive into words the pet’s parent can understand.

What are your views on animal communication?

Grape and raisin toxicity in dogs

The Conscious Cat cares about all animals, not just those of her own species, so this is a post about a dog health issue that keeps popping up in e-mails forwarded by concerned pet owners with considerable frequency.  Some pet owners think it’s true, others disregard it as yet another internet hoax.  Are grapes and raisins really toxic for dogs?

Miami veterinarian Patty Khuly, VMD, is the author of a veterinary blog titled “Dolittler” which contains a wealth of pet health information you can trust.  Dr. Khuly also writes a weekly pet health column for The Miami Herald and serves as regular contributor to Veterinary Economics, The Bark and Veterinary Product News in addition to her role as reporter for the Veterinary News Network.

Her blog post “Beware the Wrath of Grapes” provides accurate information on something every dog owner should be aware of.

Amber thinks dogs should know better than to want to eat grapes.

Keep your pets safe at Easter

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Keep your pets safe and happy during the Easter holiday celebrations.

1.  Pass on poisonous plants. Some popular plants-including Easter lilies-are highly toxic to pets and can easily prove fatal if ingested.

2.  Resist giving animals as Easter presents.  Bunnies, chicks, ducks and other animals are adorable, but people often forget that these cute little animals grow up into adult animals who require a commitment to provide daily care for the rest of their lives.

3.  Get rid of dangerous decorations.  Easter basket decorations-including plastic grass-are dangerous to animals if ingested. The grass can become twisted within a pet’s intestines and can be fatal if not caught quickly enough. Candy wrappers, plastic eggs and small toy parts can also pose a danger to pets.  Use tissue paper instead of plastic grass and do a thorough clean-up after Easter celebrations.

4.  Give your pet some peace.  Loud noises, erratic movements from children and crowds of people can be very stressful for animals. If your pet isn’t up for the chaos of an Easter egg hunt or family dinner, put her in a quiet area of the house when guests are visiting.

5.  Keep your pet out of the Easter baskets and away from candy, including chocolate. Candy can be harmful to pets, and chocolate is toxic to cats and dogs.

Amber and I would like to wish you and your furry family members a very Happy Easter filled with joy, happiness and treats!

 

Where to find reliable pet health information on the internet

The Internet has opened up a world of cheap, fast, and easily accessible data.  With little more than a point and click, pet parents can access vast amounts of information about anything and everything related to pet health.  The sheer amount of information can be overwhelming, and it’s often hard to separate the hype from the truth.  For every site that touts a new cure, there’s a site that talks about the dangers of said cure. 

I’ve found the following sites provide reliable and well-researched information about pet health topics:

VeterinaryPartner.com  VeterinaryPartner.com provides up-to-date animal health information from the veterinarians and experts of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), the world’s first and largest online veterinary database and community.

HealthyPet.com  The American Animal Hospital Association, an organization of more than 29,000 veterinary care providers committed to giving you excellence in small animal care, has created this site for pet owners.  AAHA knows that your pet is an important member of your family and is dedicated to help you make the most of the relationship between you and your pet.  Among other items, the site contains an extensive pet care library, including articles on behavior issues.

The Cornell Feline Health Center  of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine is a specialty center devoted to improving the health and well-being of cats.  The site has a wealth of information on feline health topics, including a series of educational videos.

While the above sites provide reliable and accurate information, your veterinarian is always your best source of information regarding your pet’s health and should be your first contact whenever you have any questions about your pet’s health.

How to choose healthy foods for your pet

The overwhelming array of choices when it comes to pet food makes it difficult to determine which foods are best for your pet.  In addition, many pet owners stopped trusting commercial pet foods after the massive pet food recall of 2007.  Pet owners began preparing home-made diets for their pets or jumped on the raw food bandwagon.  How do you know what food is best for your pet?

I am not a proponent of raw food diets.  While I acknowledge that there are numerous benefits to feeding raw, unprocessed foods, I believe that the risks for animals outweigh the benefits.  Unless you can be one hundred percent sure that the meat you’re feeding your pet is pathogen and parasite free, you should not be feeding raw meat.  If you want to feed a homemade diet, feed your pet a cooked diet and make sure it is properly balanced.  Petdiets.com provides recipes created by veterinary nutritionists for healthy pets as well as pets with special medical or dietary needs.

Most pet owners still prefer to feed a commercial diet, but they want to feed something that’s “natural” and free of preservatives.  But how do you know whether the food that’s advertised as “natural” really is?  Often, foods are labeled “natural”, but once you check the label, you find that the food really isn’t so natural after all.  A look at the ingredients might show that the conventional brand’s “natural” food is still of pretty poor quality.  Maybe the primary ingredient was changed from poultry by-products to chicken, but the food still contains corn gluten meal, soy meal, and wheat gluten meal, ingredients that are high on the list of culprits when it comes to allergies or digestive problems.  This is why it’s important to not fall for the marketing hype of a “natural” label but read the ingredients.

Another common misconception is that veterinary diets are high quality, healthy foods because they come from a vet’s office.  Unfortunately, when you look at the ingredient list on the veterinary brands, you often find the same things you find in the cheap grocery store brands. Most veterinarians receive very little training in nutrition.  Veterinary schools typically offer only a few weeks of training in nutrition, and the instruction is often sponsored or provided by the same companies that make these veterinary diets. 

Many pet owners are unsure of what makes a food natural, healthy or holistic.  The best way to determine this is to disregard tags such as “all-natural”, “holistic”, “veterinarian approved”, “chosen by top breeders”.  Ignore the cute photos of happy dogs and cute kittens and wholesome looking ingredients on the labels, and look at the ingredient listing instead.  Manufacturers are required to list ingredients in descending order, i.e., the ingredient with the highest amount is listed first, the one with the smallest amount last.
Quality Ingredients to Look For:

  • Animal proteins – identified by name (e.g., chicken, beef, lamb). 
  • Organic ingredients – meats, vegetables, grains and fruits – these are certified free of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. Check for the USDA Organic seal on the package.
  • Whole unrefined grains like barley, brown rice, or ground oatmeal for dogs.  For cats, it is best to look for grain-free foods.  Most cats can’t digest grains, and grain-free foods also help alleviate or eliminate hairballs.
  • Human-Grade ingredients – human grade meats tend to be better quality.
  • Whole vegetables and fruits – the less processed the better (for example, whole potatoes are much better than potato starch). These are important sources of natural plant-based nutrients (phyto-nutrients) and antioxidants.

I recommend the following brands:

Wellness, Innova (especially the grain-free EVO line), Merrick, California Natural

These brands and more are available at Only Natural Pet Store and other online retailers.

Two reasons not to use dryer sheets

You make sure you feed your pets a healthy diet, you use pet-friendly, non-toxic cleaning products.  But are you still using dryer sheets? 

The chemicals contained in dryer sheets, fabric softeners and laundry detergents get absorbed by your skin as well as your pets’ skin.  If you wash your pets’ toys, they’ll also ingest these chemicals when they chew on the toys.  Chemicals contained in these products are known carcinogens and neurotoxins.  With the wide variety of natural cleaning products available (I like the Seventh Generation Clean and Clear laundry detergent), there is no reason to continue to use toxic products.

A second reason not to use dryer sheets is that they can present a fire hazard.  Commercial dryer sheets leave a residue on your dryer’s lint filter that is invisible to the naked eye, but can burn out the heating unit and cause the dryer to catch fire.  Try this test:  take the lint filter and run hot water through it.  If the water doesn’t go through, it’s because of the residue from your dryer sheets.  This test was a real eye opener for me.  Wash the filter with hot soapy water and discontinue  using dryer sheets that contain chemicals.

Look for chemical-free dryer sheets, or discontinue the use of dryer sheets altogether.  One of the simplest and least expensive ways to add softness to your clothes without using dryer sheets or fabric softeners is adding a 1/2 cup of white vinegar to your wash (not to the dryer, and don’t use together with bleach).

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Amber enjoys sleeping on a blanket washed and dried without chemicals.

Vegan pet food – not a good choice

There’s been a recent media buzz about vegan food for pets.  ABC News reported that it might be a bit easier for dogs than cats to live the vegan lifestyle.  A recent op-ed piece in the New York Times suggested a vegan diet for cats as a viable option to reduce the over-depletion of fish stocks.  This was followed a few days later by an article in The Huffington Post titled “Vegan Pet Food – Is It Okay To Raise a Cat Vegan?”, which generated hundreds of comments.

Dogs are omnivores and are able to suvive on plant materials alone, but keep in mind that they are meat eaters by nature and do best with at least some meat in their diet, so a vegan diet is not in the best interest of your canine companion.

Cats are carnivores, and as such, cannot sustain life unless they consume meat in some form.  They are extremely sensitive to even a single meal deficient in arginine, an amino-acid that is a building block for protein.  A cat’s natural diet in the wild consists of mice and birds, both of which are almost all protein.  This is why diets high in protein and low in carbohydrates are best for cats. 

People adopt the vegan lifestyle for a variety of reasons, some of them health related, others as a conscious choice to help the planet.  While I applaud people who choose this lifestyle, it’s too restrictive for me.  I’m mostly vegetarian, but I do eat fish and seafood.  I even occasionally allow myself to give in to a craving for some meat or poultry – cravings that probably have very little to do with any physical need and are more emotionally motivated dating back to growing up on the heavily meat-based diet of my native Germany.

However, no matter what your reasons for being vegetarian or vegan, please don’t subject your cat or dog to the same choice.  They’ll be healthier and happier if they’re allowed to be the meat eaters nature designed them to be.  As for cats depleting the planet’s fish stock, I’ll worry about Amber’s carbon footprint when she starts driving an SUV.

Amber’s preferred proteins are turkey and salmon.